Thursday, March 27, 2008

More on plot advancement and superhero comics

-New favorite Trader Joe's cereal: the banana nut clusters. Unfortunately, the nearest Trader Joe's is about an hour from where we're moving this summer.

-In response to my latest treatise on What's Wrong With Mainstream Comics (and Their Fans) Now, Jones left a comment which got me thinking:

As for comics fandom's focus on plot, I wonder whether it's different from any other narrative fandom. Do message boards for Lost or, I don't know, Gilmore Girls talk more about aesthetics?

Hmm. Well, I've never watched an episode of either show, so I might be talking completely out of my ass here. I'm reasonably confident that Lost does very much conform to the SHOCKING PLOT DEVELOPMENT school of comics writing, though I'm under the impression that atmosphere also matters (though I don't doubt for a moment that most fans discuss plot above all else). I know even less about Gilmore Girls, but the Wikipedia entry suggests that the show's dialogue is one of its major draws. And I might be mistaken, but I think part of its success might also be attributed to fans' attachment to the actors.

That seems like a really significant point of departure to me. You do hear some superhero readers, especially people with an interest in older comics and/or non-superhero comics, go on at length about who drew the best Silver Surfer (correct answer: John Buscema) or whatever. But it's really rare that you hear someone say that there only one artist has ever drawn a particular character "correctly" (a common example which I agree with: Jack Kirby's creations for DC in the 1970s). On the other hand, television viewers tend to respond unfavorably to recasting on general principle (with a few celebrated exceptions, like Dr. Who). I don't want to over-exaggerate the relationship between television acting and superhero comics drawing, and I certainly understand that the nature of the modern American comics industry works against artists remaining permanently associated with particular characters. But it is interesting to note that the writer is generally less conspicuous in television than actors or producers (kind of analogous to comics editors), while in comics the writer is considered the primary "author" of a comic book. Not sure what to make of it, though.

-But wait, there's more: Jones' comment also led me to consider other types of popular television shows, ones which are perhaps a bit less reliant on plot advancement. I'm specifically thinking about mysteries and sitcoms. Each of these kinds of shows often have larger plot arcs, but a lot of the pleasure of watching them comes from the ways they hit the requisite notes of their respective genres. The people I know who watch conventional television mysteries like CSI do so in order to see how the mystery is solved; the cleverness with which this is executed is especially important.* Likewise, the main criteria in determining the quality of a sitcom is the extent to which it makes one laugh. Mysteries and comedies often incorporate some kind of larger story arc (particularly the slow-burn romance in sitcoms). Once these meta-plots are introduced, viewers start expecting plot progression. But a sitcom or mystery can also succeed in a largely episodic format, with little continuity between episodes.

In other words, people watch television shows for reasons other than plot advancement. I think that has a lot to do with genre and expectations. I don't have a whole lot expertise in literary studies in general or the mechanics of genre in particular, but I do feel pretty comfortable saying that most people who read/watch genre work expect certain things out of it. The kind of pleasures to be gained from watching detectives solve a case or an office manager embarrassing himself are often more rewarding than learning how the overarching plot pans out. So readers/viewers can still find something to enjoy, even if the plot of the episode has been "spoiled" for them.

This was once the case with superhero comics, which generally tended to fall into the genres of action or science fiction. The latter reached its apex in early 60s DC comics, particularly those edited by Julius Schwartz. Action-oriented comics were (to my admittedly limited knowledge) dominant in the Golden Age, reaching an apex with Jack Kirby's work for Marvel in the 1960s. The action-oriented approach to comics, with the exception of the "relevance" movement of the late 60s/early 70s, was ascendant well into the 80s, when a more soap opera-oriented style started to supplant it (more on that later). For most of the history of superhero comics, readers have gone into issues expecting lots of punching, kicking, jumping, throwing, and explosions. Or, if they were DC fans in the 1960s, they expected plots to be resolved by the Flash applying a few simple science facts, or maybe Green Lantern figuring out how to paint the giant alien war tank some color other than yellow.

I'm not sure that most contemporary superhero comics clearly belong to any genre. Some do, of course: Green Lantern clearly has science fiction roots, Captain America reads like a spy/espionage thriller, Daredevil is basically a crime/mystery comic, and Iron Fist bears a very strong resemblance to martial arts movies. Perhaps not surprisingly, these are some of the most critically acclaimed superhero comics being published today. Larger plot advancements still matter for each of these titles, but readers expect certain genre-ish things from any given issue (like Daredevil trying to solve the mystery of who's wrecking his life, Captain America/Bucky trying to foil the Red Skull's plot to destroy America, etc.).**

Other superhero comics, however, don't clearly belong to any single genre. You might call some of them action comics, but the action scenes seem to get weaker every year. In some titles they're basically an afterthought. The science fiction-leaning books (like the Annihilation series and its spinoffs) seem to be finding their footing a little better. But, overall, superhero comics increasingly rely on a mixture of self-reference (in a variety of forms--satirical, reverential, critical, pandering), soap opera (with the emphasis on opera, as in death), and well-established trappings, both general (like costumes and secret identities) and specific (Peter Parker works at the Daily Bugle). If those are the only standards which superhero comics have to meet, it's not surprising that so many readers are unsatisfied. In years past, a good fight scene or a clever escape from a deathtrap might have satisfied readers. These days, readers expect comics to depict characters "correctly," but also to keep larger plots (including line-wide plots) churning forward. It's hard to balance fans' need for shocking plot developments with fussy Iron Man fans' expectations for the character.

So, if writing action comics is so much simpler than writing modern superhero comics, why don't Marvel and DC go back to basics? I can think of a few reasons. Note that these aren't all causal factors--some represent reactions to the modern, plot development-focused superhero comic.

1. Movie special effects and stuntwork have drastically improved
Movies deliver bigger action thrills than they did in the 60s and 70s (let alone the three decades prior). I might find a Jack Kirby fight scene more interesting than Jason Statham driving a car, but I'm old and weird, and Jack Kirby doesn't draw comics anymore. Special effects are also a lot better these days. The Spider-Man movies have been way more exciting than almost any of the comics (though, to be fair, the real strength of Spider-Man has never been in the action sequences).

2. Realistic, ultra-detailed art may not be entirely compatible with action-oriented storytelling
Ever since Marvels, superhero readers have gravitated towards comics featuring detailed, highly referenced art. It's no mystery what this has done to deadlines; a lot of folks (like me) also think that it has hurt storytelling. Action sequences might have suffered the most. One would think that artists would have updated their photo reference files with some MMA or pro wrestling magazines to complement their celebrity gossip rags, but that doesn't seem to be the case (Greg Land's fondness for Triple H aside). It might simply be too much to ask for a deadline-plagued artist to choreograph a photo-referenced action sequence.

3. The legacy of Alan Moore
Miracle/Marvelman showed the gruesome reality of realistic superhero combat. Watchmen mocked the common superhero trope of resolving problems through fisticuffs. Subsequent writers have loved these books, but lacked the talent to say things as profound. Or maybe there's not a whole lot else to be said. In any event, it seems like some writers, especially the more ambitious ones, are somewhat embarrassed by fight scenes.

4. The legacy of the X-Men
Chris Claremont's writing didn't lack for action, but X-Men owed much of its popularity to its soap opera aspects. This was especially true after the Dark Phoenix storyline raised the stakes for long narratives, delivering an unprecedented payoff. You can see the influence on many contemporary writers, most obviously Brad Meltzer. The major difference is that Claremont (at least in the 70s and 80s) kept X-Men well within the acceptable boundaries of action-oriented superhero comics. Meltzer's work includes a lot of talking, a lot of jeopardy (including death), but not a whole lot of action.

5. Pacing in era of "writing for trade" does not lend itself to action as a genre
Five or six chapters crammed with fight scenes do not lend themselves to reading in a collected format. When reading collections of older superhero comics, I can only handle a few issues before needing to move on to something else. I do think there are a lot of advantages to writing in a more restrained pace, but it kind of rules out writing a bunch of fight scenes in every issue.

Another thing to note: some superhero readers don't seem to value good action sequences as much as other considerations. One of the best action writers active today is Mark Millar, who might just be the most controversial figure in superhero comics. Leaving aside all issues of self-hype and stupid statements made on his message board, the main knock against Millar is his use of schlocky action movie cliches, especially in dialogue. That criticism is fair enough, but I think it's also fair to ask whether Millar's greater proficiency in writing action sequences offsets his relatively poor dialogue (I'm going to leave aside criticisms of Millar's characterization, since that gets us into wanky fanboy territory). I'm no more annoyed by Millar's unbalanced skills than, say, Brian Bendis' (less so actually--I'm not really a fan of Bendis' dialogue, usually considered one of his stronger suits).

As is usually the case with my longer, rambling essays, I don't really have any corrective policy to advocate. There are clearly a lot of advantages DC and Marvel reap from this concentration on plot advancement, not the least of which is that it puts the focus on their intellectual properties rather than the creators (for more on this and lots of other interesting stuff, be sure to check out Tom Bondurant's column on the subject at Blogarama). And it's clearly making them money right now. But if event fatigue ever sets in, the Big Two consider thinking about genre.***

*Quasi-interesting side note: my mother-in-law loves police procedurals for the usual mystery-solving elements, but she cites the colors used on CSI Miami as the main reason she watches the show (which she otherwise finds inferior to the other versions of CSI).

**This isn't to say, of course, that all the good superhero comics published today borrow from other established genres. Grant Morrison and Matt Fraction both write superhero comics which don't neatly fit into any particular genre, and they're arguably the most talented writers employed at DC and Marvel, respectively.

***Postscript: As you probably gathered from the above, I don't really consider superheroes to be a genre in and of itself. I usually refer to it as a sub-genre here, with the understanding that the parent genre is action. In the case of certain DC comics, however, science fiction is the parent genre. In other cases, like Daredevil, it's more like crime/mystery.

But, despite this movement across genres, I don't think that superheroes really constitutes its own genre. It's more like an occupational setting. A television show set in a newsroom could be in the mystery, comedy, or soap opera genre. I think that's basically the case with superheroes, which works pretty well in unexpected genres like comedy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


-Man, ever have one of those weekends where you read a bunch of stuff that makes you feel even dumber about the ways you choose to spend your free time?

I'm reminded of two recent posts by Tom Spurgeon: this (touching on the problems inherent in a community built on "superhero comic book ephemera") and this (some thoughts on the ascendancy of plot developments as the primary selling point in mainstream comics). I really think there is some relationship between a comics fandom which, either through publishers' manipulation or organic change, greatly values plot developments over actual aesthetic considerations. I might also lump in the tendency of fans to develop a strange sort of advocacy for certain characters, particularly minor or unpopular characters. I've harped on this subject a number of times myself--when the internal logic of comic stories, filtered through one's own expectations and prejudices, replace any discussion of the quality of writing (beyond plotting and characterization), art, or creator advocacy, you end up with a rather poor discourse.

I was planning on writing a little more, in a somewhat more pointed fashion, but I don't really wanted to get sucked into this. There are an awful lot of really, really thin-skinned people writing about comics (and I'm not referring to who you may think), which is one of the reasons I've moved away from blog criticism and towards whatever the hell it is I do here now. It's not that there are fewer bad blogs out there--if anything, it seems like the bad ones are getting worse, and inspiring other bloggers who pick up the same bad habits. But I don't really enjoy having to deal with many of these folks or their ardent followers, and I'm less and less interested in the stuff they tend to write about--upcoming summer crossovers, the latest cover controversy (been a while since the last one, hasn't it?) or whatever.

I will say that I'm not sure that the online obsession with plot development/character ownership is a true reflection of comics shop culture. I've participated in or overheard many shop conversations which go much deeper into actual aesthetics than much of what you hear online. Which is not to say that there's always a lot to be gained from such conversations--I wasted a good 15 minutes one day trying to make the case against Greg Land, of all people--but one at least gets the sense that people still read comics for reasons other than to provide themselves with ammunition for internet conversations about the shabby treatment their favorite C-list superhero is getting. Or, if they're slightly more sophisticated, to rail against those who make such complaints.

I'm not entirely sure why the internet inspires such dubious discourse, but I suspect there are two root causes. One is the nature of internet "news" sites, which mostly deliver hype for forthcoming releases* or "postmortems" of recent releases. Marvel and DC frankly benefit from this kind of hype cycle, since it allows them to keep readers' attention without having to deliver quality reading experiences. I guess it's to be expected that many blogs will follow the agenda set out by Newsarama, et. al. The other cause, I suspect, is that it's easier to discuss something like art or storytelling sequences in comics shops, where one can simply pick up a book off the shelf to illustrate one's points. On the internet, this requires scanning and uploading. Even those more interested in talking about art or storytelling rather than plot developments (like me) can find this somewhat tiresome; it certainly doesn't lend itself to casual discussions in the comments section of someone else's blog.

In any event, there are still plenty of good comic-focused blogs out there; I'm still subscribed to nearly 90. And there are certainly bloggers who manage to discuss superhero comics in a thoroughly intelligent manner. And those are the blogs which I still read.

*Admittedly, some of this comes in the form of preview pages. Maybe things have changed in months since I quit reading most superhero-oriented blogs, but the last I saw, much of this discussion revolved around trying to detect clues to future plot developments. You do see comments along the lines of "wow, that looks awesome" on Newsarama, but I don't see as much of this kind of reaction (or, better yet, elaborations on why something looks awesome) on blogs. Maybe I was just reading the wrong ones.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Interview: Andy Graves, owner of the Happy Bookseller

The Happy Bookseller is Columbia's largest independent bookstore, a fixture in the city for over 33 years. While graphic novels are not the cornerstone of the business, they do sell respectable numbers for the store. Although I failed to discuss this in the course of the interview, the Happy Bookseller does not report numbers to Bookscan.

I conducted this interview with Happy Bookseller owner and manager Andy Graves on March 10, 2008.

Q: Mostly you're stocking graphic novels here, instead of the traditional format comics.

A: That's right.

Q: About how many of those do you keep in stock at any given time?

A: Probably 30 to 50, in that range. It varies with the time of year; towards the holidays, we might ramp up inventory a little bit.

Q: What kind of stuff do you think you have the most success selling here?

A: We do best with what you might call the mainline stuff, the stuff that's published by Random House, like Pantheon does the Maus stuff. Most of the major houses now have realized the viability of the literary comic, if you will. Norton distributes Drawn and Quarterly, von Holtzbrinck, which has just been renamed Macmillan, has First Second. So they're clearly catching on with most of the major houses, they're realizing there's commercial viability in mainline bookstores like ours.

Q: So you're doing better with the more literary, artistic graphic novels than other things which chain bookstores do well with, like manga.

A: Yeah, we can't give manga away. We've had shelves and shelves and shelves of it, and it just sits. But I understand that the Books-a-Million, which is like half a mile down the street from us, blows it out the door. I think it's probably just a question of established customer patterns. If they [customers] think that's where they go for it, it's really hard to change people's minds.

Q: How about what dominates the American comics industry, the superhero genre. How do those do here?

A: Well, it all depends on the bookseller. If we have a bookseller here who's particularly into Batman or whatever, then they can sell them, but if we just put it on the shelf it will just sit on the shelf. Like Compton, who's on staff right now, he's really into Batman, so he can push that stuff. But left to its own devices, it wouldn't move.

Q: So it's the literary comics which the casual customer browsing the shelf picks up.

A: Exactly.

Q: Which titles in particular are doing well here?

A: Persepolis does very well, like I said earlier Maus does very well. Pretty much anything Speigelman does does well. Daniel Clowes has done well, Chris Ware has done well. The usual suspects, who you would think.

Q: What are the kind of things you look for when you're ordering books? Like if a title you're not familiar with is being offered for the first time.

A: Comics, as you can tell from this interview, is not my cup of tea, so we lean heavily on somebody on staff, or if it's [an established author] we keep up with those guys. Also, the publisher's reps, they'll tell us if it's a much more commercially viable title. Comics are like a lot of things, some things have to percolate in their subgenre before they're ready to come over into the mass media. Usually our sales reps have a pretty good idea if it's something is at that tipping point where it's going to start breaking big.

Q: You hear that other bookstores, particularly something like Borders, find that graphic novels are one of their few areas of growth. Have they done better here over the past few years?

A: They're clearly doing better. I can't speak for Borders, but when something has traditionally done nothing and all of the sudden does something, that's huge growth. Certainly I wouldn't say it's something that's has a huge impact on our bottom line, at least for now. But we're always on the lookout—independent bookselling is all about finding a niche market and mining it. It seems like graphic novels will be one of those.

Q: Do you ever look at more obscure presses, like Bodega or Picturebox, or publishers who release more art-driven comics?

A: Well, we wouldn't intentionally not look at those things, we just really wouldn't know about them. Unless one of our employees were to say, "hey, you really need to look at this thing." Those guys, as far as I know, don't have any kind of outreach to us. No emails or catalogs, and that's basically how we do most of our buying, especially if someone doesn't have a sales rep they send to us. If we don't get an email or catalog, we don't really have any way of knowing about it.

Q: What kind of advice would you give to a publisher wanting to get more business in the independent bookstore market?

A: I would just contact us. I think most independent bookstores these days realize there's a market there, and I think we all would have seen substantial enough sales on the books we've been talking about that we'd be willing to take a chance on stuff. What most booksellers are going to need is to be educated, though. I'm pretty young in the realm of independent booksellers, and I can tell you most of the older folks, with all due respect, they're not going to have any kind of notion about any of this kind of stuff. You've got to educate them, tell them if they're selling Persepolis or Acme Novelty Library, this might be something they may want to take a look at. Also, I think distribution of comics—I think Diamond was the big distributor? They've been kind of really hard for us to deal with. I don't know if they're just set up to deal with comics shops or what they're deal is. If we wanted to order something from Diamond—I mean, we could do it, but we'd pay full retail. And you can't make any money buying stuff at full retail. It's been a long time—maybe they've changed their policies.

Q: Plenty of people who operate stores that just sell comics also have complaints about Diamond, too, like they're a monopoly.

A: Monopolies are never good.

Q: So you're doing most of your ordering through Baker & Taylor for comics, or….

A: Well, we restock occasionally through the wholesalers, like Baker & Taylor or Ingram. As an independent bookstore, I really believe we should trade with independent publishers. We should do as much direct business as we can—and that's not to say that Baker & Taylor or Ingram don't have a place, but we do try to buy directly from the publishers as much as possible. I think that's the most direct way to express your support for them.

The Happy Bookseller is located at 4525 Forest Drive, Columbia, South Carolina. Its website is here; you can also visit its MySpace page.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mission accomplished

-So we've managed to buy a car. While we were out buying stuff for it last night, we caught a a few minutes of Spider-Man 3 playing on a Blu-Ray display at Best Buy. Geez, did it look terrible. I mean, it looked good in the ways it's supposed to look good--you could see every pore, every bead of sweat on Topher Grace's face. That's pretty neat, the kind of thing that makes me wish we had a high def TV to watch sports or documentaries. But it also had the effect of making the scene (the climax at the end of the movie where Venom has Mary Jane webbed up in a car way up in the air) really fake-looking. The actors and the car were all extremely crisp, but everything else looked blurry and ill-defined. It reminded me of a cheap-looking sci-fi show my dad would force me to watch when I came home from college, c. 1997.

Admittedly, that's partly due to the nature of CGI effects, which can only be as sharp as they are originally rendered. And it's not like the scene was especially compelling to begin with (it's arguably the weakest part of the movie). But am I wrong in guessing that many, if not most, of the eager Blu-Ray adopters are going to be fans of CGI-heavy blockbusters like Spider-Man 3? Will computer generated effects have to get even more detailed to keep up with the incredible detail present in mundane reality? Substantial increases in sfx budgets will surely mean higher exhibition costs, which will naturally be passed down to the movie-going public. I don't watch too many movies (maybe that will change now that we have a car), so this isn't such a big deal for me. I did, however, work as a part-time projectionists for a couple of years back in college. If the movie theater industry collapses under the weight of exorbitant exhibition fees, it's really going to make me feel old to think I worked in a now-obsolete field.

-Oh boy, it really is convention season again, isn't it? The nice thing about the number of blogs out there is the relative ease in finding summaries of convention news without having to read the rather depressing details of the panels. I'm well past hype fatigue at the moment; in fact, I'm well past fanboy-reaction-to-hype fatigue, and even laughing-at-fanboy-reaction-to-hype fatigue (which generally has a lot of genuine, unadulterated fanboy-reaction-to-hype mixed in with it). The creators I follow in mainstream comics generally have enough of a following that word of their new projects spreads pretty quickly. Still, I didn't know about Matt Fraction getting involved in writing X-Men until I read about it fifth-hand. Maybe most folks reacted to Ed Brubaker's work on the title the same way I did, and have similarly determined that the X-Men are some kind of creativity black hole. Or maybe, like me, people can't stomach the idea of reading a comic with Greg Land artwork (the comics equivalent of Spider-Man 3 on Blu-Ray).

As always, though, it's the parade of costume photos which most depress me. I don't linger on these deplorable images, but the very thought of them sucks all the joy from my heart. I'm sure that many of the people dressed like Cobra Commander or whatever have rich, fulfilling lives beyond the convention floor. But there's something about these pictures that say "late Roman empire" to me. Wouldn't this time be better spent playing Halo, downloading porn, and consuming large quantities of Mountain Dew (preferably in the Halo-branded cans)?

Of course, this might be some kind of projection on my part--perhaps in reality I desperately want to dress up like these characters, but I'm too scared to do so. One impediment is my desperate desire to never, ever, ever set foot in a mainstream-oriented convention. And yet! This summer I'll be moving pretty close to a city which hosts one of the big alternative-type conventions. Cosplay isn't usually a feature of these things (at least to my knowledge), but sometimes you have to make due with the materials at hand. Which character from the snobby realm of comics should I dress as? David Boring? Glenn Ganges? Satchel Page? The duck version of Lewis Trondheim? Harlan Ellison?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Back home

Good to see nothing really happened last week. I return home with a much heavier suitcase (or duffel bag, to be more accurate) filled with books: some I bought, some were Christmas presents I never picked up, some were old comics my brother had been holding for me, and a few were advance copies of upcoming releases. I'll be reviewing the latter here in the near future. Also, I saw Ric Flair drinking at an airport bar sometime around 9 AM on a Wednesday morning. He's shorter than I would have expected; also, his hair isn't so nice anymore.

I only managed to conduct one interview, but it's one that might be of interest in light of the recent Bookscan thing. I'll post it once my brother emails me the relevant photographs. I did get a chance to visit a couple of comics shops in the upstate, allowing me to update my mental "best comics shops in South Carolina" list. I won't try to incorporate this list into the blog, though, since there are a few prominent stores I haven't visited in the last two years. I can give rough recommendations, but I'm not comfortable doing much else.

As far as internet-related stuff, I'm trying to catch up on my enormous RSS backlog. I did find this comments thread rather amusing. Bill Reed asks readers to submit 6-8 graphic novels for a comics lit class, with the following stipulations: quality matters above all else, and no superhero comics. The latter causes some degree of grief, but nothing especially rude or stupid. Well, there is this:

Don’t understand why no superhero comics. Personally, I wouldn’t take a class that claimed to be about Comics as Literature that left out Superhero comics.

2 reasons:

The Death of Captain Marvel

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills
What is it with this obsession with The Death of Captain Marvel? I've seen this cited over and over as the great, shining example of superhero comics as literature, but I don't remember liking it that much even back when I was young and dumb. I actually have a copy at hand, and it looks like the predecessor of all the mopey superhero comics which seem so popular today--if you find Drax the Destroyer's ruminations on the afterlife to be especially poetic, or the irony of the Skrulls honoring the dying Captain Marvel especially profound, then this is the comic for you. There's also a lot of angry destruction of inanimate objects to convey the sense of rage/impotence various characters feel. And yes, there is a fight scene at the end! Maybe I should try actually reading/reviewing this thing, just for psychological profiling purposes.

Other than that, many commenters are suggesting much of the Vertigo back catalog, with a few ground-level books (even one vote for Cerebus!) and the odd memoir. One dude would assign multiple volumes of Grendel. I'm glad that at least one comment lists the titles assigned in an actual, real-world version of this class. I can't figure out how to link to individual comments on CSBG, but it's #9 if you want to see it for yourself. It's probably the best list submitted, which is somewhat gratifying:

-Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

-An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories by Ivan Brunetti (ed)

-American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

-Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

-Kafka by Robert Crumb and David Mairowitz

-City of Glass by Paul Aster, Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchellil

-Persepolis vol. 1 by Marjane Satrapi

-Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware

-Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Kim Deitch

-Maus vol. 1 by Art Spiegelman

-American Splendor by Harvey Pekar

-Buddha vol. 1 by Osamu Tezuka

Not a bad list, though maybe a little heavy on the memoirs/autobiographies and literary adaptations (though the latter might be for comparative purposes). Otherwise, it's a pretty solid group of readings. It's not what I would hypothetically assign, but I've never had to teach literature to college students.

Like almost every list, this one includes McCloud's seminal Understanding Comics. I'd be a little hesitant to assign that, simply because it's likely to be most students' sole exposure to comics criticism. What none of the commenters mention is that college teaching, at least in the humanities, is trending towards assigning bits and pieces of larger works. In the past (like when I was a youngster), these readings were collected in photocopied readers, which were often only quasi-legible. In the last seven or eight years, however, such collections are generally scanned, put into .pdf form, and placed on websites which require students to log in for access. Some folks might disagree with this approach, arguing that comics should be read in paper form. Even so, it might be worthwhile to pick and choose bits from other volumes of comics criticism, rather than relying exclusively on McCloud. Since most of these books are written in prose, reading off a computer screen might not be such a bad alternative (and students can always print off hard copies--although very, very few choose to do so). Hopefully in another decade's time there will be more options for comics criticism, maybe even a synthesis. For now, I would think a piecemeal approach is best.

Personally, I wonder if the advantages to be gained by using an online reader offset any question of presentation. I would (again, hypothetically) likely assign something by David B, but I wouldn't want students to have to pay $15 for a volume of MOME with one of his short stories. Putting it online cuts the students a break. The major disadvantage I can discern would be in trying to discuss online-presented works in class; I suppose this could be averted by limiting classroom discussion to longer works bought in hard copy. In such a case, it might be better to limit online readings to giving students an idea of influences (like assigning a .pdf of a Bob Bolling Little Archie story to students reading something by Jaime Hernandez).

I guess I'm not prepared, however, to offer a list of titles I would assign. I'd probably tend to pick out books which feature the specific advantages of comics as a medium (which is why I specifically mentioned David B), but I'd also probably try to emphasize history. Reed stipulated no superhero comics, but I'd find it difficult not to devote a week to Jack Kirby. But I'd also be interested in emphasizing non-English works, and I don't really think there's time enough in a semester to incorporate the history of Japanese, European, and American comics into a course about comics as literature. That's a somewhat heartening thought, though. Devising a comics curriculum 10 years ago would have been much trickier--not just because of the lower quantity of quality North American comics, but also the lower number of good translated comics. It's not like one would have been forced to assign The Death of Captain Marvel or anything, but options were limited.

Maus would have been mandatory. Tezuka's Adolf was probably the overwhelmingly best choice for manga. There were recently-published comic strip collections, but bookstores might have struggled to round up sufficient copies for all the students in the class. Dan Clowes did not have many collected editions yet (at least I don't think Ghost World was quite out yet in 1998), and college bookstores also might have found it too difficult to stock single issues of Eightball. Robert Crumb seems like a good bet, but I don't think The Complete Crumb Comics had reached his mid 70s-to-mid 80s peak. The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book is an excellent overview of his career, but might have been a little too expensive at the time (though it's not so steep given today's textbook prices). It's also somewhat unwieldy. Thankfully, one could easily assign something by Chester Brown or Seth. City of Glass probably would have been a good bet as well. There might have been an American Splendor collection in print as well (possibly the wonderful Bob and Harv's Comics?). Maus, Adolf, It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken, The Playboy/I Never Liked You, Bob and Harv's Comics, whatever comic strip collection was available, maybe a volume of Tintin, maybe some Kirby reprint, possibly single issues of Eightball or Acme Novelty Library--that's kind of a meager list.

And it probably goes without saying that one might have encountered greater difficulty in getting this course on the timetable back in 1998. I mean, professors with enough juice could do it, but those folks generally weren't championing the graphic novel ten years ago. It's a different world now, however, and I feel pretty confident that the overwhelming quality of available material will stand up to any popular or academic backlash. Just so long as one doesn't get the impression that Sin City and Transmetropolitan are the best comics have to offer.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

See you next week

I'm leaving tomorrow for a week visiting the family in South Carolina. It's a working vacation as far as this blog goes, however: I've got a few interviews set up, and I'll be picking a few review copies as well. So try not to do anything too interesting while I'm gone, comics industry.

Monday, March 3, 2008

More meta-stuff: comics-focused lists vs. general interest lists

This is a continuation of the meta-list project. For previous posts, start here.

Here's the breakdown of the lists I compiled. There are only two categories here: comics-specific sources (including blogs and The Comics Journal) and general interest sites (including newspapers and web magazines). You might assume that this essentially divides the list into experts vs. non-experts, but this is not true; Chris Mautner and Douglas Wolk both had their lists incorporated in the general interest category. That's not to say that every general-interest list was compiled by someone with especially compelling opinions about comics; but then again, that's also true of the comics-specific lists. There were a number of newspaper and magazine lists, however, which seemed to include a lot of material from the same publisher/imprint. This suggests that review copy distribution might have a greater effect on the general interest lists.


As you might expect, the content and format of books charting on each list varied quite a bit. As you can see looking at the tables below, comics-specific sites tended to include more series, whereas general interest lists tended to favor single volume graphic novels. (One exception to this is that the general interest lists had far more Vertigo series to chart.) For reasons I haven't quite parsed, web comics did much better on the general interest list. I'm tempted to attribute it in part to Lev Grossman's list for Time, but (a) that only counts for half the web comics, and (b) it includes the one web comic to make the comics-specific list, Chris Onstad's Achewood.

There were significant differences in content as well. The comics-specific list included twice as many manga titles. As Jog suggested, those manga titles making the general interest list tended to be single volume affairs, perhaps mirroring the general public's greater interest in done-in-one graphic novels or big, chunky omnibus type things. I'm not so sure I totally agree with this line of reasoning--as mentioned earlier, Vertigo titles did much better on the general interest list than on the comics-focused one. For folks who wait for the trade, I don't know if I see much difference between manga and Vertigo collections, at least in terms of format.

I think this is actually more of a content issue. I don't think it's a coincidence that the manga titles charting on the combined list tended to be exactly the ones which North Ameircan comics-oriented bloggers tend to champion: Tekkon Kinkreet, Monster, the Drifting Classroom, the collected works of Tezuka, and so forth. We're all aware that there's a revolution going on in Borders and Barnes and Nobles across the United States and Canada, but it seems that there are relatively few North American critics who have really embraced the kind of manga which kids are buying. This seems especially dire with regard to shojo--it's being championed by Matt Brady (non-Newsarama version), Johanna Draper Carlson, and a few others, but it's not making the same kind of waves as the titles noted above. I'm not trying to accuse anyone of any prejudicial thinking; I haven't exactly made shojo manga a priority. Ideally, I'd like to see greater fluidity in the categories, fewer lists where you can pick out a token manga choice. Maybe that will happen as the comics industry matures. And this does seem to be an even more severe problem in the general interest lists, which seem less likely to have even a token manga choice.

Superhero comics seem to be just as popular among the general-interest lists as the comics-focused ones. I don't really have any conclusion to draw from this, except to note that the vast majority of titles in each list fall outside the superhero sub-genre. Also noteworthy is the slightly greater success of collections of vintage material on lists from comics-focused sources. This is largely attributable to the greater success of classic comic strip collections on comics-focused lists.

The breakdowns for each category appear below, followed by explanations for the terminology I used.


Single volume graphic novels: 38
Comic book series: 24
Graphic novel series: 22
Comic strip collections: 10
Other: 4
Single issue comic books: 2
Web comics: 1
Newspaper comics: 1

Manga: 12
Other non-English: 5
Superhero: 15
Vintage: 15


Single volume graphic novels: 51
Comic book series: 24
Graphic novel series: 12
Comic strip collections: 8
Web comics: 4
Other: 2
Single issue comic books: 1

Manga: 6
Other non-English: 7
Superhero: 15
Vintage: 11


Single volume graphic novels: 42
Graphic novel series: 21
Comic book series: 19
Comic strip collections: 9
Other: 4
Web comics: 2
Single issue comic books: 2
Newspaper comics: 1

Manga: 10
Other non-English: 7
Superhero: 13
Vintage: 12

Single volume graphic novel: A book, generally square bound with a relatively large page count, which encompasses the entirety of a story in its pages. Also used to describe collections of material with no additional volumes planned. Examples: Exit Wounds, I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets
Graphic novel series: Same format as above, except that it's a multi-volume series. Examples: Scott Pilgrim, Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus
Comic book series: The traditional North American format of a 20-60 page, stapled comic with multiple issues. Examples: Captain America, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Note that limited series which were mostly published in 2006 or earlier and had a graphic novel collection appear early in 2007 were counted as graphic novels; example: Beyond!)
Single issue comic book: Same format as above, except the story is finished in one issue. Differs from a single-volume graphic novel in length, format, and (perhaps most importantly) likelihood of being stocked in a general interest bookstore. Example: Crecy
Web comic: A comic for which new installments first appear on the internet. Examples: Erfworld, Achewood
Comic strip collection: A collection of short-form comics which originally appeared in newspapers or as strip-format web comics. Examples: Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto, The Complete Dick Tracy
Newspaper comics: Comics which first appear in newspapers; may also appear on the internet, but usually through newspapers' websites. Examples: Mister Wonderful, Garfield (the latter is hypothetical)
Other: Things I cannot easily categorize, like Ivan Brunetti's Comics: Philosophy and Practice (a pamphlet included with an issue of Comic Art #9) and Elvis Road (essentially an enormous poster; see the description here).

Manga: Comics originally published in Japanese.
Other non-English: Comics originally published in languages other than English or Japanese.
Superhero: Action-oriented comics featuring superpowered or costumed characters. I included BRPD and The Umbrella Academy in this category.
Vintage: Books reprinting material which is over 30 years old.

And that brings us to the lists themselves. In addition to the two meta-lists for each category, I've also included the combined meta-list for ease of reference. There are a few comments on the categorized lists; my comments on the combined meta-list can be found here.

In general, I was struck by how lists from comics-focused sources were more likely to include quirkier, less conventional comics. I'm reminded of recent debates over the merits of comics specialty shops vs. general interest bookstores for fulfilling the needs of customers and publishers. There seems to be a similar question for comics criticism, and it appears that publications and websites devoted to comics coverage advocate a more diverse array of material. Many of you are probably saying "duh" right now, but I thought it best to point this out.


1. I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets (682)
I was rather surprised by this placement. Anyone who reads comics blogs knows that Paul Karasik's collection of Fletcher Hanks' comics was a big hit among comics fans, but this has to be better than anyone involved could have expected. It's noteworthy that I Shall Destroy... appears 16 places lower on the general interest list. Perhaps the works of Fletcher Hanks held greater resonance for those already immersed in the language and traditions of comics.
2. All-Star Superman (557)
3. Alias the Cat (441)
This doesn't even appear on the general interest lists. It's not like Pantheon is a small budget press which can't afford to distribute review copies, so I guess we have to attribute this discrepancy to wildly differing tastes between the two categories of list-makers.
4. Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (440)
5. Powr Mastrs (439)
See comments for Alias the Cat above.
6. Exit Wounds (428)
7. Shortcomings (391)
8. Immortal Iron Fist (352)
9. Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus (342)
10. Criminal (298)

11. The Blot (295)
12. Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto (290)
13. King City (274)
14. Crecy (256)
I wonder how high this would have charted had it been published in a more conventional graphic novel format by a more conventional publisher. This did not appear on the general interest list at all.
15. Chance In Hell (254)
16. Maggots (244)
17. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 (238)
See comments in the general interest list below.
18. The Umbrella Academy (227)
19. Shooting War (226)
20. Dr. 13: Architecture and Morality (219)
I'm counting this as a single volume graphic novel, given that (a) its previous format was in backup stories in an anthology, and (b) pretty much every specified the title of the collected edition.

21. Complete Persepolis (216)
22. Fluffy (214)
23. Notes For a War Story (212)
24. Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil (206)
25. Nat Turner volume 2 (204)
26. The Complete Terry and the Pirates (201)
27. The Complete Peanuts (198)
28. Achewood (190)
This is the only web comic on the comics-focused list, and it owes its placement to only a handful of lists. Comics critics either aren't reading webcomics, or they're not liking what they see. Or maybe they're not taking web comics seriously because they aren't printed. It will be interesting to see how Dash Shaw's Bodyworld does on best of 2008 lists.
29. Love and Rockets digest series (189)
30. Acme Novelty Library #18 (186)

31. Tekkon Kinkreet (183)

32. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier (174)
It got about as many points from comics-oriented lists as general interest lists, but those points went a lot further on the other list, where this comes in at #17.
33. Apollo's Song (173)
34. Superspy (171)
35. House (169)
The Professor's Daughter (169)
37. Captain America (162)
38. Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice (156)
Elvis Road (156)

40. Casanova (155)
41. Alice In Sunderland (150)
42. Bookhunter (147)
43. MW (144)
44. King Cat Classix (143)
45. New Engineering (137)
Spent (137)
47. Fell (135)
48. Sundays With Walt and Skeezix (134)
49. Mister Wonderful (129)
Uptight (129)

51. Aya (124)
52. Red Eye, Black Eye (123)
53. Moomin (122)
54. Drifting Classroom (120)
55. Monster (118)
56. Empowered (115)
57. The Complete Dick Tracy (113)
58. Rodolphe Topffer: The Complete Comic Strips (112)
59. Walt and Skeezix (111)

60. Hack/Slash (110)
How to Be Everywhere (110)
Love and Rockets: Maggie the Mechanic (110)
Last Call (110)
Laika (110)
65. The Spirit (109)
66. The Arrival (108)
Remember, this came in at #14 on the combined meta list.
67. The End (106)
68. Storeyville (103)
Essex County series (103)
Essex County was at #20 on the combined list.
70. EC Segar's Popeye (101)

71. Don't Go Where I Can't Follow (100)
Dragon Head (100)
Punisher (100)
74. Emma (98)
Nana (98)
76. Army@Love (95)
77. Beach Paradise (92)
Bow Wow Bugs a Bug (92)
79. Nextwave: Agents of Hate (89)
The Princes of Time (89)

81. The Salon (85)
Suburban Glamor (85)
83. A Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Saga of the Bloody Benders (84)
Scalped (84)
85. Annihilation (83)
86. Yotsuba&! (81)
The Cat Who Walked in Beauty (81)
88. Good as Lily (80)
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (80)
90. The Early Years of Mutt and Jeff (78)

91. BRPD (76)
92. The Boys (75)
93. Garage Band (74)
94. The Order (71)
Speak of the Devil (71)
96. Fables (70)
Percy Gloom (70)
Phonogram (70)
Personal editorializing: Percy Gloom is second only to Town Boy among books which were shafted by comics critics.
99. New Tales of Old Palomar (69)
100. Back in Bleck: Blecky Yuckerella volume 2 (67)
Parasyte (67)
Tamara Drewe (67)
Tamara Drewe got all its votes from British list-makers; I'm curious to see how it charts for 2008, now that it's available in North America.


1. Exit Wounds (657)
2. Shortcomings (550)
These two did well on comics-focused lists, but they really pulled away from the rest of the field among the general interest sources. This alone doesn't prove the "Chris Ware and his ilk have undue influence" theory (especially since there isn't a whole lot of formally ambitious work on this list), but it's interesting that the four titles which bested Exit Wounds and Shortcomings on the comics-focused lists could safely be described as more "fun" than these two graphic novels. Also worth considering are comments made by Douglas Wolk and others concerning writing about comics for general interest publications and websites, specifically the advocative function of such writing. Perhaps some of these list makers thought that advocating graphic novels with more serious subject matter would make a better case for comics as a serious medium. But that's all speculative, and I don't want to take anything away from what Rutu Modan and Adrian Tomine have accomplished. These books did very well on both lists.
3. All-Star Superman (351)
4. Criminal (349)
5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 (303)
Now here's a stunning contrast--this was only 17th on the comics-focused list. That's still pretty high, of course, but this is exceptionally high. I seem to recall this doing better with entertainment-oriented publications and websites, as opposed to traditional newspapers and alternative weeklies.
6. The Arrival (275)
Another big difference (it's #66 on the comics-focused list). I'm not sure why this clicked so much better with general interest sources.
7. Y the Last Man on Earth (255)
The first example of Vertigo titles placing higher on this list.
8. The Killer (237)
9. Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (219)
10. Superspy (215)

11. Essex County series (210)
12. I Killed Adolf Hitler (181)
I really can't explain why this graphic novel was so much more successful on the general interest lists. It didn't make the top 100 for comics-oriented lists.
13. The Plain Janes (171)
The Minx line really did much better with the more mainstream-type publications. I suspect it has something to do with better publicity, given that this book in particular received a rather lukewarm response among comic bloggers.
14. Micrographica (170)
The Professor's Daughter (170)
16. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier (169)
17. I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets (168)
You know, this is a pretty good showing, really, given the relatively tame nature of this list.
18. Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto (154)
19. EC Segar's Popeye (147)
Three Paradoxes (147)
Popeye was the highest charting vintage comic strip collection, almost doubling the point total of the next highest entry (Sundays With Walt and Skeezix, #44 below). The PBF collection came in one spot ahead, making it the highest charting comic strip collection overall on this list.

21. Chance in Hell (132)
22. Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (131)
The highest charting manga on this list. It's also probably the closest manga to an Exit Wounds/Fun Home type book to come out in 2007 (with the possible exception of With the Light). This might not be a coincidence.
23. White Rapids (128)
24. Aya (127)
25. The Salon (121)
26. Apollo's Song (119)
27. AD: New Orleans After the Flood (110)
The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam (110)
29. MW (103)
Once again, Vertical's Tezuka collections finish very close to each other.
30. Silverfish (101)

31. Achewood (100)
Good As Lily (100)
33. Shooting War (97)
I expected this to place higher here than on the comics-focused list. This was not the case--it's #19 on the other list.
34. The Other Side (96)
35. Fell (90)
The Goon: Chinatown (90)
37. Alice In Sunderland (86)
38. Girls (83)
39. Sentences (81)
40. Marvel Zombies 2 (80)

41. Crossing Midnight (78)
42. The Escapists (77)
Principles of Uncertainty (77)
44. Sundays With Walt and Skeezix (75)
Pretty good placement for such a high priced book. I know I said that before, but it seems doubly true here.
45. Casanova (73)
46. Dogs and Water (70)
Incredible Change Bots (70)
Maxwell Strangewell (70)
48. The Blot (66)
The Complete Terry and the Pirates (66)
Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus (66)

51. Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil (63)
52. Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus (62)
53. Army@Love (61)
Beyond! (61)
55. Empowered (60)
Jack of Fables (60)
As others have pointed out, it's strange that Jack of Fables did better than its parent book. All it takes is one vote (in this case, it's Time's Lev Grossman's vote).
57. Laika (58)
A Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Saga of the Bloody Benders (58)
It's good to see a Treasury of Victorian Murder book doing well on this list. That seems like the perfect series for bookstore shoppers.
59. Captain America (50)
Erfworld (50)
Sugar Sugar Rune (50)

62. American Elf volume 2 (48)
63. Bookhunter (46)
French Milk (46)
MPD Psycho (46)
Tekkon Kinkreet (46)
Two-Fisted Tales Archives (46)
Anybody know what's up with French Milk? Amazon has it listed as coming out later this year here, but as a 2000 release here. (UPDATE: I've been informed that French Milk was self-published in 2000 and will be re-released later this year. I'm not sure why it ended up on a best of 2007 list, given these circumstances, but I'll definitely be interested in reading it later this year. I've been further informed that Amazon is incorrect, invalidating the previous update. Except the part about my being eager to read it. French Milk was, in fact, originally published in 2007.)
68. Paris (45)
69. The Homeless Channel (43)
70. Phonogram (42)
Will and Abe's Guide to the Universe (42)
There were a lot more contemporary comic strip collections on this list compared to the comics-oriented one. Here's something to make me feel old: I bet Matt Groening's kids are out of high school by now.

72. Green Arrow Year One (40)
Irredeemable Ant-Man (40)
Planet Hulk (40)
The Sinestro Corps War (40)
I don't remember exactly, but these surely all came from the same list.
76. All the Rage: The Boondocks Past and Present (37)
Best American Comics 2007 (37)
The Black Diamond Detective Agency (37)
The Completely Mad Don Martin (37)
DMZ (37)
Fox Bunny Funny (37)
Kimmie 66 (37)
Moomin (37)
Scalped (37)
Sock Monkey: The Inches Incident (37)
The Minx and Vertigo titles keep rolling in.

86. Dark Tower (36)
I'm a little surprised at how poorly this did, given all the publicity and Stephen King's name value. It didn't make a single comics-oriented list, and it didn't place on too many general interest lists, either.
87. Simon Dark (35)
One of the bigger WTF entries on this particular list.
88. Damned (30)
Local (30)
Wasteland (30)
Zuda (the "second wave" specified) (30)

92. Strangers in Paradise (25)
93. Astronaut Dad (23)
First In Space (23)
Nothing Better (23)
I'm classifying Nothing Better as a graphic novel, since that's what the original list-maker specified.
96. Garage Band (22)
97. Cartoon History of the Modern World (21)
The End (21)
Rodolphe Topffer: The Complete Comic Strips (21)
Tiny Tyrant (21)
I would have expected Cartoon History of the Modern World to do better. Those were pretty popular books 10 years ago.


1. Exit Wounds (1085)
2. Shortcomings (941)
3. All Star Superman (908)
4. I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets (850)
5. Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (660)
6. Criminal (640)
7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 (541)
8. Alias the Cat (452)
9. Perry Bible Fellowship: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto (444)
10. Powr Mastrs (439)

11. Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus (409)
12. Chance in Hell (386)
Superspy (386)
14. The Arrival (383)
15. The Blot (361)
16. Immortal Iron Fist (357)
17. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier (343)
18. The Professor's Daughter (339)
19. Shooting War (323)
20. Essex County series (313)*

21. Apollo's Song (293)
22. Achewood (290)
23. Y the Last Man on Earth (275)
24. King City (274)
25. Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil (269)
26. The Complete Terry and the Pirates (267)
27. Crecy (256)
28. Aya (251)
29. EC Segar's Popeye (248)
MW (248)

31. Maggots (241)
32. The Killer (237)
33. Alice in Sunderland (236)
34. Tekkon Kinkreet (229)
35. Casanova (228)
36. The Umbrella Academy (227)
37. Fell (225)
38. Notes For a War Story (224)
39. Dr. 13: Architecture and Morality (219)
40. Complete Persepolis (216)

41. Fluffy (214)
42. Captain America (212)
43. Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (211)
44. Sundays With Walt and Skeezix (209)
45. The Complete Peanuts (208)
46. The Salon (206)
47. Nat Turner volume 2 (204)
48. Bookhunter (193)
49. I Killed Adolf Hitler (190)
50. Love and Rockets digest series (189)**
Micrographica (189)

52. Acme Novelty Library #18 (186)
53. Good As Lily (180)
54. Empowered (175)
55. Plain Janes (173)
56. House (169)
57. Laika (167)
58. Silverfish (161)
59. Moomin (159)
60. Army@Love (156)
Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice (156)
Elvis Road (156)

63. Spent (149)
64. Three Paradoxes (147)
65. Sentences (144)
66. King Cat Classix (142)
A Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Saga of the Bloody Benders (142)
68. New Engineering (137)
69. The Other Side (135)
Red Eye, Black Eye (135)
71. Rodolphe Topffer: The Complete Comic Strips (133)

70. Mister Wonderful (129)
Uptight (129)
72. White Rapids (128)
73. The End (126)
74. The Spirit (124)
75. Marvel Zombies 2 (122)
76. Scalped (120)
Drifting Classroom (120)
78. Monster (118)
79. Complete Dick Tracy (116)
80. Dogs and Water (114)

81. Phonogram (112)

82. Walt and Skeezix (111)
85. AD: New Orleans After the Flood (110)
Hack/Slash (110)
How to Be Everywhere (110)
Last Call (110)
Love and Rockets: Maggie the Mechanic (110)
The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam (110)
91. The Escapists (109)
92. American Elf volume 2 (106)

93. Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus (105)
94. Storeyville (103)
95. Don't Go Where I Can't Follow (100)
Dragon Head (100)
The Punisher (100)
98. Emma (98)
Nana (98)
100. Garage Band (96)

..And that probably does it for this year, barring any corrections. I had promised a few more entries on this subject, but I forgot that I'm going out of town this week. I think I've said everything I really had to say here, though, so now I leave it to you to decide what to make of these lists.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A few notes on you know what

Okay, so the big list is up. I actually could have gone about 350 titles deeper, but there would have been more and more ties like the big one at #83. And I think 100 is a little easier to digest. If there's enough call for more info, I'll supply it. But 100 seems like a lot to chew on for now.

I'll probably devote most of next week's posts to breaking down the list a little further. Of greatest interest, at least to me, are the "mainstream" and comics-oriented lists, which might reveal some useful trends. I'll probably have something to say about the lack of manga on the list, even though Jog already made a lot of the points I was going to make (and a few that hadn't occurred to me--as is always the case with Jog's posts, it's well worth your time). There's also the issue of superhero titles and superhero fans' reaction (see comments on Blog@Newsarama).

For anyone who's wondering, I'm tentatively planning on doing this again next year. As I've alluded to here in the past, there are big (and positive) life changes afoot, so I'm going to be in a very different place (figuratively and literally) in late 2008/early 2009. But I still think I'll be able to churn out another meta-list. Making the list really wasn't as much work as some folks have suggested--once Chad provided a formula, it was pretty smooth sailing. And you have to bear in mind that I had a pretty big cushion of time--I first mentioned that I'd be making the list in early January, and I didn't finish until late February. I'll have an even bigger cushion next year; I'll just enter the lists as I see them, when they first start popping up in November or so.

I will be making a few changes next year, though, mostly in the realm of better record keeping. Several people have asked me for a master list of the various lists I used. I don't have one; it just didn't occur to me until well into the process. I'd like this process to be as transparent as possible, so I'll keep a running tally next year. I'd also like to include more specialized lists next year--there are relatively few manga- or superhero-only lists, not really enough to make me confident in any conclusions I might draw from them. The manga thing could probably be solved easily enough, but I'm not sure what to do about the superhero dilemma. I just didn't see that many top ten (or whatever) lists out there. Most of the superhero-centric best of 2007 features tended to be in more of an awards show format, with specific categories and whatnot. Some of these lists are usable (like Don MacPherson's), but others are not. If anyone has any suggestions about improving this aspect of the coverage, please let me know.

Thanks to everyone who helped out. I'm gratified that there's so much enthusiasm about the meta-list. I know I'd be interested in a project like this if someone else were doing it, and I'm glad that other people seem to think the same way. Analysis of comics-related discourse often steers toward snark (and I'm as guilty of this as anybody), but I think there's a lot of thoughtful stuff out there amid the exaggerated rhetoric and grudge-bearing. Hopefully this list illuminates some of that useful discourse, and will inspire more of the same.